Canadian Security and Immigration Policies in Practice

By Wael Nasser

Security has been a crucial aspect in immigration policies in Canada and around the world, and the political debates about security have increased in occurrence after the attack of 9/11. The goal of this post is to provide an overview of one of the security measures and controls, namely the Smart Border Action Plan, which was implemented in Canada after the 9/11 attacks and its linkage to Canadian immigration policies.

Security Agenda post-September 11
The attacks of 9/11 had a crucial impact on shaping the linkage between immigration and security in Canada. Bourbeau (2011) indicated that Prime Minister Chrétien during a Special House of Commons Debate in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States established this linkage. Chrétien noted that Canada would not give in to the temptation of creating a security curtain and declared that his government would not be “stampeded in the hope—vain and ultimately self-defeating—that we can make Canada a fortress against the world” (Bourbeau, 2011). 9/11 attacks are indeed the turning point that established how security infiltrated clearly into Canadian immigration policies.
Bill C-11 or the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) was adopted in November 2001 (Antonius et al., 2007). The new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which came into effect in June 2002, replaced the Immigration Act of 1976. However, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, new security controls and mechanisms have been introduced to the new Immigration Act throughout the 2000s (Crépeau & Nakache, 2006; Antonius et al., 2007; Adelman, 2002). This new Act “expedites the removal of people who are deemed to be security threats, imposes harsher penalties for migrant smuggling, and limits access to the Canadian refugee determination process” (Kruger, Mulder & Korenic, 2004, p. 77). On October 12, 2001, the minister of Citizenship and Immigration announced immigration measures to be integrated into the new anti-terrorist strategy that was adopted by the US and Canada. The Smart Border Action Plan has been discussed heavily in the literature (Adelman, 2002; Antonius et al., 2007; Bigo 2002; Bourbeau, 2011; Crépeau & Nakache, 2006; Kruger et al, 2004) which is the focus of this brief overview.

The Smart Border Action Plan
Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian national who had been living in Canada for five years, was arrested while attempting to enter the US with a trunk full of explosives intended for the Los Angeles airport on New Year’s Eve 2000 (Antonius et al., 2007). This incident represented “the beginning of the politicization of the Canada-US border” where Canada was often pointed out by US politicians and media as having lax immigration policies (Antonius et al., 2007). After 9/11, the Canadian border control system was described as “porous and inefficient” (Crépeau & Nakache, 2006, p.19). Moreover, Adelman (2002) pointed that that 80 percent of Canadians demanded stricter controls over immigration after the 9/11 attacks (p. 2). The 9/11 attacks made the US and Canada “to not only strengthen their borders against enemy intrusions, but also to adopt a series of measures against the enemy hiding within their own walls” (Antonius et al., 2007), one of which was Canada–United States Smart Border Declaration that was signed in December 2001.

The Smart Border Declaration is committed to “identify security threats before they arrive in North America through collaborative approaches to reviewing crew and passenger manifests, managing refugees, and visa policy coordination” (as cited in Bourbeau, p. 23). The Smart Border Declaration is built around “securitized migration” (Bourbeau, 2011, p. 58). The first pillar of the Declaration’s action plan, entitled “The Secure Flow of People” which “links migration and security” in a formal way:
We will implement systems to collaborate in identifying security risks while expediting the flow of low-risk travelers.
We will identify security threats before they arrive in North America through collaborative approaches to reviewing crew and passenger manifests, managing refugees, and visa policy coordination.
We will establish a secure system to allow low-risk frequent travelers between our countries to move efficiently across the border.
(As cited in Bourbeau, 2011, pp. 58-59)

The Smart Action Plan brought a new way of how mobility across the US-Canada is “perceived” and suggests that the migrant is a security concern (Bourbeau, 2011, p. 59). The range of security has shrunk to only two categories: someone is either a security “risk” or a “low risk” migrant; there is no category “not a risk” (p. 59). The conceptualization of the movement of people is based on “risk” or “threat” (Bourbeau, 2011, p. 59).
The Safe Third Country Agreement is an element of the Smart Border Agreement that came into effect on 29 December 2004 (Bigo 2002; Crépeau & Nakache, 2006; Antonius et al, 2007). This agreement allows the US and Canada to send back all the asylum-seekers who have reached their territory by way of the other. The rule applies only at a land port of entry; it does not apply to claims made at an airport, port or ferry landing (even by those coming from the US) or to claims made inside Canada (Crépeau & Nakache, 2006). According to Antonius et al, 2007, the Safe Third Country Agreement had played a role in decreasing the number of refugee claims. Indeed, the Safe Third Country Agreement is a “multifaceted tool, and a “powerful instrument” to measure the phenomenon of securitized migration (Bourbeau, 2011, p 59). According to Hyndman and Mountz (2007), the “primary objective” of the STCA is “exclusion from Canadian territory” (p. 80). However, the current influx of asylum seekers into Canada who is crossing the border on foot and in front of the Canadian security officials is contradictory to what Hyndman and Mountz (2007) expected that the STCA would make asylum seekers flow to Canada through “underground channels of cross border traffic” such as smuggling. Irregular migration to Canada raises the question of whether Canadian immigration policies and their security agendas have achieved a “secure” Canadian state, and what “security” really means to Canada.
Taken together, these new security measures comprehensively act as “powerful deterrents” for migrants, while greater powers of enforcement are granted to authorities. (Huot, S., Bobadilla, Bailliard & Laliberte Rudman, 2015, p. 139). Moreover, the rights of migrants have been reduced at all stages of the migration process (Crépeau & Nakache, 2006).


Adelman, H. (2007). Refugees and border security post-September 11. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees.

Antonius, R., Labelle, M., & Rocher, F. (2007). Canadian immigration policies: Securing a security paradigm? International Journal of Canadian Studies, 36(36), 191-212. doi:10.7202/040782ar

Bigo, D. (2002). Security and immigration: Toward a critique of the governmentality of unease. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 27(1_suppl), 63-92. doi:10.1177/03043754020270S105

Bourbeau, P. (2011). The Securitization of Migration: A study of movement and order. Oxon: Routledge

Crépeau, F., Nakache, D., & Institute for Research on Public Policy. (2006). Controlling irregular migration in Canada: Reconciling security concerns with human rights protection. Montreal: IRPP.

Huot, S., Bobadilla, A., Bailliard, A., & Rudman, D. (2016). Constructing undesirables: A critical discourse analysis of ‘othering’ within the protecting Canada’s immigration system act. International Migration, 54(2), 131-143. doi:10.1111/imig.12210

Hyndman, J., & Mountz, A. (2007). Refuge or Refusal: The Geography of Exclusion. In Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror, and Political Violence (1st ed., pp. 77-92). Routledge.

Kruger, E., Mulder, M., & Korenic, B. (2004). Canada after 11 September: Security measures and “preferred” immigrants. Mediterranean Quarterly, 15(4), 72-87. doi:10.1215/10474552-15-4-72

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